Wednesday, November 25, 2009

So, I have a question...

Its been just over a year since I starting this ramble. As I look back, it has, indeed been "not so random." The downside, I suppose, is that if I am not feeling particularly helpful, it becomes very difficult to write - as is evidenced by the flurry of posts at the beginning, and the waning for the last 7 months or so.

I got an interesting email from Dad today. In it, the author investigates the power of asking good questions. I was reminded of a class that I used to teach on Continuous Process Improvement. I would post a declaration on the slide, and say "I want you to respond to this statement, without agreeing or disagreeing" The statement was "Everything that I will get out of this course is up to me". The suggestions and statements would fly for quite a while - until someone finally asked a question - rather than making a statement.

A question is the only way to respond to such a statement without in implicit agreement or disagreement. It is the only way to keep an open mind. A question implies open-ness. A question is forward looking. A GOOD question leads us down a path - not toward an ANSWER (I think that far too many people have answers) but on a journey. In our lives, in our culture, we value having the right answer. The problem, of course, is that once you know the answer, it becomes the ONLY answer. Your mind shuts down to any of the other myriad of possibilities.

How differently would we respond to the world around us if we learned to value the question?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I couldn't say it any better...

This is just a link to Chris Guillebeau's most recent newsletter with an article called "7 life lessons my 1-year-old taught me while backpacking abroad" It is too good not to pass along.

Live life. Never stop learning. Re-learn to see it through the innocent eyes of a child.

'nuff said.

Here's the link:

Monday, August 31, 2009

What are you afraid of?

What are you afraid of?
This is not the typical "get over it and just do it" mantra that we hear so often. This is not the "what are you afraid of" that taunts us as youngsters. This is the real honest question. What is the real fear that is keeping you from doing what you really want to be doing? I have been giving a lot of attention to this particular topic of late...its a fine line between giving something too much energy, thereby just stewing on it, and giving it enough attention to DO something about it.

Fear does not just stop. Some would say it needs to be conquered, others say embraced - but which ever way you think about it, the possibility of responding to it rather than reacting to it exists. I am in the middle of it right now. I find myself to be rather influenced by my fears - to the point of in-action - and I guess that is part of my whole point here. In order to fully respond to the fears that are holding me, I feel that I need to understand the fear better. I do not, at this point, appear to be a person that can simply go out and do it in spite of my fears. I truly wish that I could, but I have not really been able to, up to this point at least.

So I strive for understanding, in the hope that through my understanding, the path will make itself more clear.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chop Wood, Carry Water.

Meditation, prayer, quite time; call it whatever you want to. We all need time to focus. A friend recently reminded me of the zen proverb "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." Basically how do we find the peace and beauty in the rituals and routines of our daily lives? Chop wood. Carry water.

For me, it is a 3 to 4 mile walk pretty much every morning. Rain? Snow? Wind? Cold? No problem. The views of the Boulder Flatirons help (as does the 20oz cup of coffee) but the practice of being outside for 45 minutes a day just enjoying and appreciating the beauty of the day was a practice I started before we moved to Boulder - and believe me, there aren't any Flatirons in Wadena, MN. Chop Wood. Carry Water.

The reminder of the proverb is more special, more poignant for me, because my mentor, the late Bill Sauer, used the same proberb fairly often. I had allowed myself to forget the proverb, if not the practice. We need to learn how to find peace in our day. The stresses of our daily lives in the early 21st century invade everything. Traffic, stock market, kids, parents, jobs, neighbors - you name it, it just keeps piling on. Take the time to appreciate the peace and beauty in your every day experiences. De-compress, if just for 3 minutes at a time. Chop Wood. Carry Water.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A recommendation:

I'm starting to figure this out (yeah, right). The challenge de jour is the attempt to determine what it is you actually want from life, as opposed to what you are supposed to want. It is a lot trickier than it sounds...
A social networking friend named Chris Landry recently turned me on to a guy named Chris Guillebeau and his e-book called A Brief Guide to World Domination. This 29 page ditty is not for everyone - but if you are not quite satisfied with where you are or what you are doing, then I heartily recommend it. Actually, even if you are completely happy with what you are accomplishing in your life I recommend the read. As you all know I am a big fan of expanded horizons and if you let him, Chris will definately expand your horizons.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Big Black Hole

Wow. August. I have fallen into the black hole of blogging. As is very apparent from reading though the last posts, I have fallen into the trap of blogging when I feel inspired to blog, and letting myself off the hook otherwise. I suppose this isn't really that bad - part of the reason for the blogging in the first place is to clarify my thoughts and fill my cup, so if I don't need it, then what the heck.

Here's the thing though. Some people out there are inspiring me to do do better. Chris Brogan, Seth Godin and others make you sit down and think. I'm at a point where I am trying to make sense of my professional life - as in "what the heck do I want to do when I grow up?" This is sort of strange ground for me in the blogosphere, because I have really tried to post stuff that might be helpful to other people who are in this boat with me. I really don't want to fall into the narcissistic rut of talking about my life out of the context of useful or helpful ideas and suggestions. I haven't been feeling very useful of late.

So with ALL of that preamble, here is the useful bit; it's ok. I have the tendency to be very hard on myself when I don't do all of the things that I feel I should. It's ok. Cut yourself some slack. We all go through periods in our lives when we are feeling less than insprired; less than committed. I believe it is in the nature of being human. Work hard. Be committed. And on the days when it just isn't there, don't dwell on it. It goes along with the non-judging theme that I have talked a lot about. I am where I am - so how do we go ahead from here?

So in the spirit of going ahead from here, I am going to resolve to come up with one helpful thing per week (or more) it might just be a link - or a sentence. It might be a two-page manifesto. My commitment to myself is that I will publish. Period.

I hope that you will find it useful, or helpful.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The curse of experience

I had a boss once. This person was not a bad person - probably not even a bad boss - the problem was that he was blinded by his previous successes. There was only one way to do things; the way that had worked for him before. This is the problem with experience. It blinds us to the other options and opportunities. Once we "know" how something should be done, it becomes too easy to stop looking for other options. Stop listening to alternative points of view. This is the curse of experience. The more you learn, the more you need to really work at seeing other points of view. Remember; just because it worked best in that situation, does not mean it the right tool for this one. 'nuff said.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cronicle the vision

I have made an interesting discovery... I can type every bit as well with my eyes closed as open. Ok, so what? Well here's the interesting part (for me anyway) I can be in the middle of a visioning exercise - really focusing on what I want and how to get there, and doing so with my eyes closed almost into alpha state, and my fingers just type. I don't have to worry about keeping the feeling after I open my eyes in order to get in on paper. I can stay in the moment and let my fingers just work..It is completely legible, and completely in the moment. What a powerful tool. Try it. even if you make spelling errors, can you get enough of the feeling to capture it? I have noticed also that when I read back what was written in this manner, it is much easier to get back to that place and to stay focused on the vision.

I'm going to use this a lot, just because it helps me maintain my focus. Give it a try - if you can't type without thinking practice until you can. This is opening all kinds of possiblities for me...

Monday, June 1, 2009

The after-life...

It is easy. Too easy. It is easy to get sucked into the after-life. Now, I'm probably not talking about what you THINK I'm talking about. This particular after-life has nothing to do with Christ, or religion, or spirits or heaven. This after-life is insidious. It creeps up on us when we least expect it - and I am really feeling the effects of it right now. It steals today from us. The after-life that I'm talking about is all about the "after." After I find a new job, After my ship comes in, After I start my new business; after, after, after. It is the after-life - instead of the now-life. It is the opposite of living in the present. It implies that something else is responsible for me being happy and fulfilled. It says that, only after certain conditions are met, only THEN will I be all that I am capable of being. Many of us want something more or different than what we currently have...for me, it is a new job and more freedom from financial concerns - so it is easy for me to fall into this after-life - daydreaming about how great it will be after. The problem is, that it robs me of today.

Think about what you want your life to look like. Plan for how to get there from here. Don't be satisfied with where you are, but for heaven's sake LIVE TODAY. I guarantee that there is something great about today - something that only today can bring. If you are too focused on the after - you will miss the now...and now is when life happens.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Grit your teeth...and pull.

So here you are. Blithely heading down the road of your life and/or your career. One day, you stop and look around. The road doesn't look like it used to. You suddenly realize: you are on the wrong road. Actually actively heading towards a place that you don't want to go. The obvious solution is; Stop. Turn around. Find a new road.

The truth is that it isn't usually that simple. There are forces that conspire to keep us moving down the same, wrong, road. Expectations. Experiences. Mortgages. Fear of a different road. Not even know where the other road is.

Then, once you identify the road that you want to be on, it does not necessary get easier - in fact sometimes it is a lot tougher. Several years ago, I did a 4-day solo canoe trip down the headwaters of the Mississippi. I had good maps and a good plan. The problem arose because the REAL river, doesn't look like the maps. The map shows a nice, clear blue line. The reality of the situation was much, much different. The "river" spreads out into a marsh that is about a mile wide - it was like that for about 2 of the 4 days. So, the routine was that I would paddle my way into an large open pool. Then paddle VERY slowly around the edge of the pool looking for a trickle of current - the direction that I needed to move in. Once I determined the direction that I needed to go, the real work began. Back up, paddle like hell toward the ripple and "ground" the canoe between two floating masses of grass. Then walk to the front of the canoe, grab onto the swamp grass...and pull. Walk back to the middle of the canoe, and pull. Walk to the back of the canoe, and pull. Walk back to the front of the canoe, and pull. You get the idea. Typically I would have to do that for about 45 minutes to an hour, before hitting a section of open river for 15 or 20 minutes - then it would start all over.

The direction was not the tough part. The direction was the easy part. Getting from where I was to where I wanted to be was tough. It would have been much easier to find a nice open pool and paddle around in circles. No blisters. No splinters. No razor grass cuts on my hands. And, most progress. Too often we paddle around in circles, because it is easier than real forward motion.

Real forward motion take work. It takes gritting your teeth, and pulling.

Right now, I am working on my direction. I'm a little nervous, because I know I'm not on the right road, and I know then when I find the road - the real work will start. Part of why I'm here is because this will help give me the insights to figure out what to do - and then the strength to actually do it.

Good luck on your rivers.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Strategic plan...part 2

Ok, so last Saturday I talked a little about the strategic plan, and the components of one of the ways to go about setting one up. We've covered Strengths and Weaknesses, so now let's move on to Opportunities!

In the business world, Opportunities are new products or new markets that can be maximized by using your strengths. For the sake of this conversation, Opportunities are the things that you have identified as viable, based on your strengths and weaknesses. What areas can best play up your strengths and play down your weaknesses? This is not the place for your self imposed constraints. Open it up. Sky's the limit. If a strength is getting people to open up to you and talk about their lives, one opportunity might be "life coach" another one might be "talk show host". Now there are those people who will tell you that "talk show host" is not a very realistic opportunity. That does not matter for this part of the exercise. We'll winnow it down later. Right now just honestly look at your strengths and weaknesses and make a list of where they might lead. The ones that you feel the most passionate about will make themselves apparent as you build thelist. After you have a good sized list, go ahead and line out the ones that don't resonate with you , and circle the ones that do. Keep doing that until you get the list down to 5.

When the list is down to 5, start on the threats. What are the external forces that will work to prevent you from doing any of the things that are on the list. Make a list for each of the 5 opportunities. This will tell you two things: 1. the most "viable" idea of the 5, as well as the obstacles that you will have to overcome to get there. Each of the threats will result in one or more action items.

If you feel like the exercise was good, and a direction has been set, start doing the action items that come out of the threats. If not - well, maybe it will serve to provide a look into opportunities that you hadn't thougth about before.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Strategic Plan for Life...

In the world of business, the strategic plan is a time-honored tool for getting from where you ARE to where you want to BE. Now, there are any number of ways that you can go about doing this. One of the tools that is often used in this particular endeavor is called a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. The exercise consists of doing a candid and thorough documented analysis of 4 categories. What are we really good at? What are we NOT good at? How can we leverage our strengths in the marketplace and finally what obstacles stand between us and where we want to be. Sounds simple, and at the highest level, it is. The challenge is getting into fine enough detail that the plan is actually workable and functional. This is where, I believe, most companies fall down.

So why am I talking about this? What does an operational strategic plan have to do with you and me? Well, here's my thought...

What if you sat down and did your own, personal SWOT analysis? Could be for career advancement, could be for home finances, could be for getting your marriage back on track - could be for all of thee above. Give it a shot. Sit down for 30 minutes (time yourself) and start with STRENGTHS. What do you do really well? Where do you shine? After you have spent 30 minutes working on your list, have someone who knows you, who you like and respect do the same thing for you - have them focus on YOU. Many times we don't recognize our own strengths, but someone else can spot them with laser focus. A spouse, significant other or very close friend can fill this role well. Don't be embarrassed about asking - or about the results. This is not random gratuitous praise (although that's not bad either) it is working on focusing your attention on what you are really good at. As you identify what you are really good at, it will start to give some clarity on where you might want to end up. Oftentimes the things that we are really good at are things that we really enjoy. Strengths are FUN!

Now comes a less fun, less comfortable part; WEAKNESSES. Interestingly when I talk about weaknesses, I am not necessarily talking about things you need to may end up being things that you want to avoid. Do the same exercise with weaknesses that you did with Strengths - although you may want to separate the them by a couple of days - that way you can live with your strengths list and build on it. So with weaknesses, what do you NOT like to do, what are you not particularly good at? For example; I'm a great starter. I have good ideas and I start with great intentions. That's one of my strengths. One of my weaknesses is follow-through. I have a lot of started projects...fewer finished ones. So I know that is something that I need to pay attention to. It is something of a roadblock that I need to either deal with or delegate.

Working on your weaknesses is a lot less fun that working on your strengths is. The important thing is that you go through the exercise without getting angry or defensive. You may or may not want to have someone else go through your weaknesses. If you have a tendency of taking things very personally, don't jeopardize a relationship by asking your new girlfriend to list all of your weaknesses -it might not end well.

I will go through opportunities, threats and then tie it all together in the next stay tuned.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Well, spring has sprung here in beautiful Boulder. Temps in the 60's and 70's with daffodils and crocus blooming around town. I have to admit - I'm ready. That's not to say we won't get any more fact we NEED more snow. It has been an incredibly dry winter, and with the wildfires that we have already had this year, we really need the moisture.

None of that is really my point. In fact, I just like to talk about how beautiful it is in order to drive my friends and family back in Minnesota absolutely nuts. No, my real point is that spring is a time of renewal. Revival. Rebirth. It is a time to trim away the dead remains of winter and start fresh. Days are longer and the sun is brighter; casting light into the darker corners of our lives. Most people who decide to make changes in their lives and habits do it in January...we call them New Year's Resolutions. Me? I do 'em in spring. January is dark and cold and not all together inspiring. Spring on the other hand...

Get outside. Go for a bike ride. Plant pansies. There is nothing like the great outdoors to center yourself and focus on what is important - whatever that is to you. Peek into the dusty corners and clean them out. I mean that literally as well as figuratively. Spring cleaning is a great exercise: both for your home and your soul.

For those of you still locked in the frozen throes of winter...sorry about that. For the rest of us, its time. Get out and love it.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Upside down and sideways...

I am out of sorts. Not bad really - just sort of off-balance. Everything feels a bit muted. Things that should make me REALLY happy make me sort of happy - and things that should REALLY tick me off, sort of tick me off. I'm really not at all sure why. In fact, I don't even have any good theories right now. So that leads me to this: how important is it for us to understand "why?" I enjoy self-indulgent navel-gazing as much as the next person, but in situations like this, maybe it makes a lot more sense to just notice how I am feeling and accept it. One of the single biggest things that I think that we can do for ourselves is to learn to be comfortable in our own skins. Take the good moods with the bad. Learn to take a look at how we are feeling without judgment and simply say "this is how I'm feeling...isn't that interesting" Try to suspend all of the ego assumptions that we attach to "how we are feeling today." Each and every part of you is just that PART OF YOU. It isn't good. It isn't bad. It does not have to be dissected into its smallest - and often least logical - state. It just IS.

I'm certainly not using this as an excuse not to change or grow - indeed quite the opposite. I think that acceptance leads to peace of knowing - and I think that it is in this state of peace where the most exciting and transformational changes can happen.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009


An object set in motion...I know, I talked a little about this in "stuckness" but momentum is a thoughtful topic for me right now. I just got Seth Godin's blogpost this morning and today marks his 3,000th consecutive post. He stated in his post that blogging is "a difficult habit to develop, but an even harder one to break." Why? Momentum. Isn't that kind of what a habit is? It is keeping the ball rolling in the same direction.

Here's to getting the direction set, and the motion building...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


So, how do you know when a given opportunity is the "right" one? I have made some decisions throughout the course of my life that, at the time, presented themselves as great opportunities, but in retrospect...not so much. I can attribute some of the problems that have arisen to "bad luck" but I'm really not that into buck-passing, so I have to acknowledge that, for whatever reason, I failed to make the most of these seeming opportunities. Or did I? As one looks back over the course of the decisions that have been made and the directions that have been taken, it is easy to see where a change of course would have been prudent. Hind sight is, as they say, 20/20.

So here's the question for the day: How do you take the decisions from the past and use them to make better decisions in the future? As opportunities arise, how does one go about effective evaluation in order to make the best decisions possible, and then maximize the opportunity through appropriate action?

Seems to me that the only way to learn from life is to actively examine what went well, and what didn't. In "Made to Stick" authors Dan and Chip Heath cite an example of a study that was done where-in two groups of college students were asked to consider a "problem" that they could see the end of - a relationship or stress of school - something like that.

Group "A" was asked to envision what their life would be without the problem. Focus on how it would feel to no longer have the problem. Group B was asked to actively consider what got them to where they were. Focus on the past and the thoughts and actions that got them to where they were. After 6 weeks, which group was further along in solving the problem? Group B. Considered contemplation of past efforts was vastly more effective than thinking only about the desired outcome.


Now please do not misunderstand that I am saying there is no room for visioning, focus or even the power of attraction - because I think that all of these elements absolutely come into play, all that I am saying is that when you have determined where you want to go, it is more effective to actively consider the circumstances that got you to where you are, rather than JUST focusing on where you want to be.

I guess that all I'm saying is the best way to make the best decisions is to actively and intentionally examine past decisions. What processes did you use? What worked, what didn't and then LEARN from what you did.

I'm not saying its a silver bullet, but I think it gives us the best shot we've got. Heck, we may even manage to learn something along the way.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009


If you are a regular visitor, you may have noticed that I have been, as of late, blocked. Totally and completely at a loss for anything of any value. Not one iota of information that is actually worthy of putting on paper...or screen. Stuck.

So, as I have been contemplating the stuckness of my blog, it led down a path of stuckness in general. How does it happen? All of the sudden you wake up one morning and realize that you are stuck. Somehow along the way, you stopped changing. Stopped growing. Stopped challenging yourself.

I'm stuck right now, and I've been thinking a lot about how to get un-stuck. Contemplating my stuckness. Really working on figuring out what, exactly to DO about being stuck. Then it dawned on me: Getting unstuck isn't about contemplating stuckness - it is about DOING, not THINKING about doing.

If you feel stuck, don't consider the whys and wherefores of being stuck - do something about it. Do anything about it. Remember that on object set in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest, tends to stay at rest, so simple action of doing something will make it easier to do the next something, and doing nothing makes it easier to do nothing.

Thinking isn't doing. Doing is. That's the trick to something.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Are you sweating yet?

Thomas A. Edison made the famous quote that genius is "1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."

So my question is "are you sweating yet?"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

February 20, 2009.
I have been alive for 10 Presidential Inaugurations - 11 after today. I can honestly say that none of them has made a large or lasting impression on me...until today. Just to be clear here - I'm not talking about Presidencies - just inaugurations. I have to say that I have never really looked forward to an inaugural address before, so this is sort of an odd feeling. I am looking forward to listening to President Obama on this amazing, historic day.

My grandmother is 97. Today will be her (if I counted correctly) 29th inauguration day. William Taft was in office on the day that she was born. The last major war that we had fought was the Civil - ok, ok, we'll count the Spanish American War in 1898 - but still.

What are we going to see in the next 97 years? Will today prove to be the day that we look back on as a turning point? Will a message of hope actually inspire the actions in Washington and throughout the country that will do justice to the hope that led them? Right now we are mired in almost all-consuming economic turmoil, and certainly the economy will be the first order of the day for the new administration, but we cannot loose sight of the long-range opportunities that we have. We cannot let our desire for economic salvation turn us from the long-term changes that can create a better country and world. Energy independence. Curbing environmental destruction. Our health-care system. Education. And yes, Jobs. Good, stable, well paying Jobs.

Seems to me that today is as good a day as any (maybe even better than some) to stand UP and stand FOR. There are so many things to rail against in this day and age. It is up to each and every one of us to stop railing AGAINST and start railing FOR. What is near and dear to your heart? Stand up. What do you want to see accomplished before the end of your days? Stand up. What charities need your help? Stand up. What charaties don't even EXIST yet? Stand up. Clean water? Stand up. Clean air? Stand up.

The hard part about standing up, is that when everyone else is sitting down, you stick out. But keep this in mind: if YOU are standing, how much easier will it be for the next person, and the next, and the next.

Today is a day of hope. Today is a day of new beginnings. Today is a day of change.

Stand Up.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Plan, Do, Check, Act

Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) this is a carry-over from my days in Continuous Improvement / Kaizen. At that point in my life, it was targeted at manufacturing processes, but the concept has a lot of application across all aspects of life.

So often we just "do" - or at the very best, "plan, do, " but it is in the last two pieces that the power lies.

Quick terms definition:
Plan: Pretty straight forward. Plan is the plan. Who, what, why, where, when (or by-when) and how. All of these components together create a complete plan. When you are in "plan" take the extra time to create a complete plan.

Do: Also pretty clear. Work the plan. Do what you outlined that you would do.

Check: This is the reflection time once you have worked the plan. Did the plan work? If not, why not? What can be tweaked to make the results even better? Go through the plan, step by step and make sure that you did actually work the plan. Which parts worked and which parts didn't? Dissect the both the plan and the results.

Act: Implement the changes that you came up with in "Check." Keep in mind that Check and Act are basically a loop constantly tweaking and making the plan better (hence the Continuous in continuous improvement).

So now, let's take a quick look at this. It is pretty easy to figure out how one would use PDCA in manufacturing: you want to decrease the defects produced in a widget, so you make a complete plan, work the plan, check the progess and act on the information - but how do you make the jump from making parts on an assembly line to loosing weight, or getting your dream job?

The process is completely transferable. Let's take a look:
The goal is reduce the stress in your life:
Plan: First of all, how are you going to know that your stress is lower? Determine what you see as "lower stress" and write it down. Now, who, what, why, where, when and how: Who is pretty straight forward, YOU want to reduce YOUR stress right? So it is primarily an internal process. What: This is where you would insert your definition of "lower stress" - what is the measurable result (when I say "measurable" it might just be "sleep better" or "be less cranky"). Why? This is important because it is what puts the gas in your engine. It is your motivation behind "less stress". When: in this example, when is both when you will start, and when you will measure your progress along the continuum. Finally we get to "how". How is the specific things that you will do to reduce your stress. I will meditate for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening. I will take 5 deep cleansing breathes when I feel myself getting angry or stressed. I will read one book that I WANT to read.

Be careful to find the balance between a complete plan, and planning paralysis. A good plan well implemented is a lot more powerful than a GREAT plan never implemented.

Do: work your plan. It is that simple. Just DO what you outlined in your plan.

NOW comes the good stuff.
Check: your checkpoints should be in your plan. So you know that after 3 weeks, you are going to check in with yourself and your progess. Are you doing what you said you would? Why or why not? What obstacles can you remove? How do you make it easier to do that which you want to do?

Act: Implement the changes. Set a new checkpoint.

Check. Act. Check. Act. Check. Act.

Before you know it you have created a new normal.

Give it a try. Start small. Let yourself get a feel for this and build some success at it.
Most importantly believe that you can.

I'll check back in later.